Troubles behind the Green Door

The trouble with winter … is not snow.

The trouble with winter in the country… is not snowy unplowed roads.

The trouble with winter in the county in an old house… is not frosty, drafty, arctic air.

The trouble with winter in the country in an old house that’s not quite finished…

is mice.

The other trouble is that we were lulled into thinking we had successfully insulated, caulked, and boarded up all holes when we redid the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the bedroom, and the mudroom.

The other trouble is, we aren’t finished; so there are other parts of the cottage that are not successfully insulated, caulked and boarded up so the worthless little critters can still get in. (Mice can get in a hole that is the size of a pencil eraser!)

Trouble lurks behind this green door.

green door to the basement

(This green door illustrates the most famous post on Apple Hill Cottage’s blog. About 50 (!) people per day read this post about making a shiny brass door handle look like oil rubbed bronze. It amazes me that there is so much interest in getting rid of shiny brass.)  But back to the troubles at hand: behind this green door with the lovely oil-rubbed bronze handle is the basement of the cottage.

We have a split level basement. Behind the green door go down five steps and turn to the left and there’s a door to the outside. There’s also a closet where King Henry the Cat has his litter box. The laundry is down there too as well as built-in shelves, which are filled to the max with the sundries of living in an unfinished house: screws, nails, paints, paintbrushes, stains, tarps, caulking tubes, electric supplies…. Turn to the right and go down six more steps and there’s the rest of the basement — the furnace, the hot water heater, the toilet, sink, and shower (!)  and beyond that Mr. H.C.’s workshop.  In addition to all that stuff, Mr. H.C. keeps a lot of his business inventory down there. It’s a basement’s basement, and there are quite a lot of holes to the outside that have not been insulated, caulked, or boarded up. And frankly, it is WAY down on the list of things to redo around here.

We tried to close the green door last night before we went to bed. About three o’clock King Henry woke us Mr. H.C.  because he needed to get down there to his litter box fast. So there really isn’t the option of closing the green door. There is, however, the option of locking the cat down there with the mice…

(Spoiler alert: If you are a mouse lover, read no further…)

As far as we know, our lovable but worthless cat has caught one mouse. It was dead in his mouth when he brought it to us, but lately I’ve been living in fear that he will jump on the bed at night with a live mouse in his mouth. Mr. H.C. also found a trap with nothing but one mouse leg in it, so the cat could have eaten the mouse out of the trap too. We aren’t sure about that; we haven’t seen any 3-legged mice around lately, but if it gives the cat a taste for mice, I’m all for it.

Mr. H.C. reminds me that Henry caught a mouse this summer too. Yes, he did; but that doesn’t count because he caught it outside. I’m fine with well-behaved mice who stay outside where they belong.

It’s terrible to have mice in one’s kitchen. Suddenly nothing is certain and I can’t be sure if  a mouse did or didn’t scurry over a pan. In the warming drawer of my OVEN I found mouse droppings! Ugh. Now I have to wash every pan before I use it. I’ve lived with mice before. It’s not a surprise. I just thought I was done with them when we finished our beautiful kitchen.

The last straw was a few days ago when I opened the oven door and found a stash of cat food in the corner of the oven. CAN I SHOUT HERE?

Yes, we are feeding the cat expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and the mice are stealing the expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and hoarding it in the corner of the oven. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

And just so you know, last week when we were in Home Depot the mouse traps were SOLD OUT! So we must not be the only ones with this problem…

And just so you know, I am blessed that Mr. H.C. takes care of all the mouse trap issues…

And just so you know, the oven is now sparkling clean, the green door is now closed at night, and the mouse troubles are staying downstairs. For Now….

cat napping on blanket img_7762

So the cat can continue with his daily routines.

55. The Cave under the Cottage

If you’ve ever been caving, you might know the feeling — a generic uneasiness as you’re thinking about it and hiking to the cave; several gulps and maybe some sweating when you see the entrance and realize it’s barely big enough for you to get your shoulders through; deep breaths to keep the panic away when the darkness envelops you; the urge to shout when you emerge from the dark hole in the ground. YES! I LIVED!

I went caving once when I was younger, braver, skinnier, and more bendable. I had to crawl downward into the entrance head first and had to stand on someone’s shoulders to be shoved out the exit. I never had the desire to go again, although I did feel euphoric when we all emerged from that tiny hole unscathed.

There is a cave under our cottage.

No, it's not a coal mine.No, it's not a cave.It's our very own access to the bowels of our cottage. And it's right in the kitchen!

No, it’s not a coal mine.
No, it’s not a cave.
It’s our very own access to the bowels of our cottage. And it’s right in the kitchen!

The opening is about 18″ square. You don’t have to go down head first, but you might have to stand on someone’s shoulders to be shoved out… There is another way in and out, but you still have to shimmy through the crawl space in the dirt and rock to get there. And that’s where the plumbing is. And that’s where the wiring is. And that’s where the gas line is.

caving 002We knew that Mr. H.C. would have to go down there. The gas line needed to be moved for our stove; the mouse chewed wires needed replacing with mouse proof aluminum BX cable, and the plumbing to the refrigerator needed to have copper line run to it. And we were hoping to add to the duct work to have another register in the kitchen floor.

We kept putting it off. There were thoughts about Spiders and Mice and Snakes, oh my, but the snakes were the biggest worry. We looked it up. (Mr. H.C. isn’t married to a librarian for nothing!) Rattlesnakes (not likely) hibernate in Pennsylvania until April. Copperheads (more likely) hibernate in our area until March. Hmmm. I tried to be upbeat, but after all, it wasn’t ME going down there. I would have taken his place, but I don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’. Let alone plumbing, wiring, and duct work…

Our neighbor said, “Ah, you’ll be okay. If you see a snake, just don’t corner ’em.”  That was the confidence Mr. H.C. needed. He packed up his biggest hatchet, put on his hat light, and strode off to the mines.

We sent Mr. Henry down first as a scout. Sort of like the canaries they send into the mines? He took one look at the opening in the wall and hopped right in — down the rabbit hole — eager to explore. He disappeared and in a few minutes was back, with only some dust on his whiskers and seemingly unconcerned, at least about mice or snakes.

the cat in the cave

The work went just about as smoothly as it could. Of course, I’m the one writing this, and I was also the one who was upstairs holding lights, feeding gas and copper lines, and handing down tools. The easy job. The clean job. Yep, those are the ones I like…

Mr. H.C. did not have the clean job. No, he didn’t. To grab the flexible gas pipe you see in the photo on the left, he had to slide up on his back in the dirt. The workable space diminishes as one gets further in — there is about an 11″ clearance between the floor joists and the ground. Did I mention dark?

caving 009
It looks as if he should be able to jump right out, but there is duct work in the way, so he had to slither through the crawl space to get out. Thank goodness he was the only one slithering — no snakes or critters of any kind, alive or dead, were spotted during this adventure.

caving 012And as if we don’t have enough holes in this floor, Mr. H.C. cut another one and in 15 minutes had the duct work fitted for a new register in the kitchen floor. With two registers and all the holes patched, this kitchen might be downright toasty next winter.

And Mr. H.C. was indeed, euphoric when he had climbed out of that tiny hole unscathed. How about a shower and a glass of wine?chardonnay on the porch